The Mississippi Legislature will convene Tuesday in Jackson for its 2022 session.
Although there are always new issues and bills that emerge out of the ether — who could have foreseen a bill about pecan pilfering in last year’s session, for example? — there are three major pieces of legislation that are likely to dominate the session.
Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, who presides over the Senate, said medical marijuana will be one of the first pieces of legislation taken up as the session begins.
The path to a medical marijuana program has been a long, frustrating journey.
After years in which the Legislature failed to advance any medical marijuana program out of committee, the voters took matters into their own hands, passing an amendment to the state constitution in November 2020 that would have created a medical marijuana program that was supposed to have been put into operation in August. That measure passed by an almost 3-to-1 margin, but was set aside by the Mississippi Supreme Court, which declared Mississippi’s voter initiative invalid due to a technicality related to redistricting in 2010.
Restoring the people’s right to petition the government through the initiative process will also be a priority, at least that was what legislators — including the entire Golden Triangle delegation — said in the immediate aftermath of the Supreme Court’s ruling in May.
In response to the ruling, negotiators for the Senate and House agreed on a new medical marijuana bill and asked Gov. Tate Reeves to call a special session so the bill could be voted on and passed into law. Reeves declined and has been vocal in his opposition of the legislation. He said he will be seeking the support of enough legislators to make sure the bill approved in this session is not veto proof.
Legislators have a choice to make between doing the Governor’s bidding or respecting the overwhelming will of the people, as well as staying true to their previous promises to pass medical marijuana legislation.
The same holds true for legislation restoring the initiative process, something that faces no opposition in the House, Senate or Governor’s office, at least not on the surface.
But the devil is in the details. We know that, privately, legislators despise the initiative process and believe it usurps their roles in writing legislation. That’s why the language of the voter initiative bill should be carefully scrutinized. Any legislation that seriously constrains voters from acting when their legislators refuse to act creates the mere illusion of voter initiative.
Finally, Hosemann has stated that he intends to advocate for Medicaid expansion, legislation that would provide health insurance to up to 300,000 people who are members of working families. Mississippi is currently one of 12 states that has not expanded Medicaid since it was offered as part of the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) in 2010, even though 90 to 95 percent of the costs are covered by federal funds.
Beyond providing essential health services to 10 percent of the state’s population currently without health insurance, many believe expanding Medicaid would be a godsend for rural hospitals which are in financial peril due to the fact that residents in rural parts of the state are less likely to be covered by private insurance. Rural hospitals provide healthcare services for uninsured patients for which they cannot be reimbursed. The Mississippi Hospital Association, along with many health care advocacy groups, support expanding Medicaid coverage for this reason.
As is the case with medical marijuana, polling shows Mississippians favor expanding Medicaid benefits by a health margin.
We believe legislation in support of medical marijuana, Medicaid expansion and a legitimate voter initiative process are worthy of the support of our Legislative delegation.
We intend to inform voters about whether our delegation agrees as these bills move through the process.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.